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Handyman: Ladder one of most important project tools

Glenn Haege
Special to The Detroit News

Whenever you do a project, chances are you will include a ladder as one of the tools you use. Yes, a ladder is truly one of the most vital ones you have. But like most tools, one size does not fit all.

When choosing the proper ladder, you have to think about the style that fits the project. For putting up lights on the Christmas tree or painting the ceiling in the bedroom, an 8-foot step ladder should do the trick. But for cleaning the siding or gutters on a two-story home, you will need a 20-foot extension ladder.

Most homeowners have a step ladder or an extension ladder, but there are plenty of other ladders you can choose from. A multiposition ladder is sort of the jack-of-all-trades because it can be used as a step ladder or an extension ladder. Then there is the old reliable step stool ladder that is great for helping you reach things on a higher shelf in the kitchen.

If you are doing a longer term project that needs a more stable, wider base to stand on, such as painting or hanging wallpaper, you can even buy or rent a scaffold or work platform.

The oldest manufacturer and supplier of commercial ladders, founded in 1901, is right in the area. Michigan Ladder in Ypsilanti (, owner and President Tom Harrison said safety is still the No. 1 concern when choosing a ladder for a project.

“People often buy ladders based solely on price, but the safety of the ladder should be their primary concern,” Harrison said.

To help you make a safe choice, the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) has developed tests that determine the duty rating, type, and maximum working load for every ladder, which is indicated on the duty rating information label attached to the ladder. For example, a Type 1A duty rating means it can handle a working load of up to 300 pounds, while a Type 2 can hold only 225 pounds and a Type 3 up to 200 pounds.

When considering what length of ladder is best, you have to consider more than just the actual length, such as 8 feet or 20 feet. You also need to consider the maximum working length for extension ladders or highest standing level for stepladders. That is the highest level you can stand on the ladder safely.

Harrison said another important consideration is the type of material the ladder is made from. Portable ladders are constructed primarily from three materials: wood, aluminum or fiberglass. Matching the job and working environment with the proper ladder material is the third component in making the safest ladder choice.

“People often buy a ladder based on how much it weighs, so aluminum ladders are usually lighter,” he said. But a heavier ladder made from wood is generally more stable and safer. They also need to think about what they are using it for, so if they are working around or with electricity, it is important to select a nonconductive material such as wood or fiberglass.”

The bottom of an extension ladder should also be placed 1 foot away from the wall for every 4 feet that the ladder rises. When climbing the ladder, always face it when going up or down. And pay attention to that safety label that indicates how how you can stand on the ladder. One of the biggest causes of accidents is when the ladder tips and the person falls because they were standing at the top of the ladder and it wobbled.

Having the proper ladder for the job and using it safely is the best way to move to the front of the home improvement class, rather than the front of the line at the emergency room.

If you would like to suggest a question for this column, e-mail If you want to talk to Glenn Haege, call his “Handyman Show” on WJR-AM (760) at (866) ASK GLENN, (866) 275-4536, from between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. Saturday and from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday. “The Handyman Show” can be heard on more than 130 radio stations.